Stop and Think: An Anxiety and Anger Management Strategy for Kids

Why I specialize in both anxiety and anger management.

Anxiety and anger have a lot in common. If you've ever experienced feelings of anxiety before, consider those physical cues - racing heart, shortness of breath, dilated eyes, inability to focus or concentrate, muscles tensed and ready for action. 

Now, think about the last time you were angry. How your face felt hot and your fists tensed up. How your heart started to beat faster because you were ready for a fight. Your brain focused only on the thing that made you feel this way.

The fight, flight, or freeze response.

When we experience a stressful event, our brain goes in to "fight or flight" mode. Our brains decide whether to stand our ground and fight, run out of the situation, or stay paralyzed.

Anxiety and anger both trigger this response in our brain and bodies. As adults, many of us have learned to identify what set us off and how to defuse the situation. We are able to experience that immediate fight/flight/freeze reaction, and then send the information to our developed pre-frontal cortex and decide the best course of action. We've already been trained in anger management and anxiety management.

Unfortunately, this rational mind is not fully developed until around age 25. So your child is literally unable to stop the overreaction - unless you train them how.

Take a step back in order to calm down.

The first thing we need to train the brain to do is to STOP and THINK. Our brain assumes we need to be ready to protect ourselves once we experience anger and anxiety. Instead of immediately letting our fight/flight/freeze response take over, we take the time to stop and assess if we're really in danger.  

With young children, I teach a hand motion. "Remember, we have to stop (hold hand up like a stop sign) and think (point finger to front of brain)." We then explore how our impulsive reaction, such as hitting, kicking, running away, would get us in to trouble. We talk about other ways to handle the situation instead - and these solutions typically start by taking a deep breath to calm down. 

Helping children identify situations where they could have used stop and think, instead of reacting right away, is crucial to their development. Point out characters who did or did not use this strategy when you watch cartoons or read a book with your child. By applying this information, your child will start to be aware of how they can use Stop and Think in real life as well. 

Curious to hear more? Contact Kelsey at compassionatecounselingstl@gmail.com to discuss more tips on anxiety and anger management in St. Louis, MO!